WASHINGTON, Feb 26, 2012 (AFP) - Afghanistan's defense and interior ministers have canceled a visit to Washington next week to concentrate on addressing security concerns back home, the Pentagon said Sunday.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "understands why that's a priority and why they are unable to travel to Washington in the coming days," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement sent to AFP.
The pair had been scheduled to meet with the secretary on Thursday, but were staying in Afghanistan in the wake of violence sparked by a recent Koran burning incident at a US base.
"Senior Afghan officials, including the defense and interior ministers, are consulting this week with others in the Afghan government and Afghan religious leaders on how to protect ISAF personnel and quell violence in the country," Little said.
Panetta "looks forward to hosting them at the Pentagon in the near future," he added
Earlier Sunday the US ambassador to Afghanistan vowed to "redouble" efforts despite an insidious Taliban attack at the interior ministry in Kabul that killed two US military officers. "We've got to create a situation in which Al-Qaeda is not coming back," said envoy Ryan Crocker.
NATO pulled all its advisors out of government ministries after the shooting deaths Saturday, blamed on a rogue Afghan intelligence official and claimed by the Taliban as a response to the Koran burning.
The toll since the incident at Bagram airbase north of Kabul, which inflamed anti-Western sentiment already smoldering in Afghanistan over abuses by US-led foreign troops, rose Sunday to more than 30.
A US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States that left almost 3,000 people dead, hoping to ensure that Al-Qaeda would never again have safe haven to plot such destruction.
Nearly 90,000 US troops remain deployed in Afghanistan, propping up the government of Western-backed President Hamid Karzai. There are plans for the force to decline to 68,000 by the end of September.
Top Afghan officials and American commanders have suggested the United States will likely retain a military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, when Afghan army and police are due to take over security for the whole country.
Karzai has repeatedly invited the Taliban for direct talks with his government, urging neighboring Pakistan -- where many insurgents hide out in the rugged border areas -- to help facilitate negotiation efforts.